The truth about the menopause in your 30’s
It’s not sexy, but it’s the truth.
This is the article I wish existed when I went into a surgical menopause 8 months ago, after my hysterectomy.
Recap — my surgery was due to a high risk of ovarian cancer. It wasn’t a case of ‘if’, it was ‘when’. I couldn’t take the chance and, after leaving it as long as I dared, I got it done. Five-ish weeks off work, and I was back to life.
It really wasn’t that bad. I had keyhole surgery, a night in hospital, a bit of bed rest, Netflix and some really good drugs and I was right as rain. But, immediately after the surgery, when my body was doing and feeling some strange things, I felt like there was nowhere to go for advice. Everything I read seemed to be aimed at women in their 50’s or older. It didn’t feel relevant. My gynaecologist discharged me with no next steps other than a sick note, and my GP, great as they were, just kept offering me more pills and patches.
So, I thought if I wrote down a few things I wish I had known, that it might make it easier for somebody else. Or at least make somebody laugh.
Disclaimer: there is some serious lady-talk in this article, and I talk about my pubes, okay?
The biggest bug bear was, and still is, my hormone replacement (HRT) patches. Clear, sticky plasters which have to be applied below the waist and must be worn at all times, until I am 50. This is mainly to alleviate menopause symptoms, and to help protect me from the high risk of osteoporosis. I friggin’ hate them. At first they just came off, sticking to my jeans or knickers, or I forgot to apply them and after half a day started getting menopause symptoms, such as sweats and intense rage (!). My bum cheeks are now a graveyard of rough, red squares with black sticky borders, left by the patches. However, I have found that cleaning my bum cheek with surgical spirit, just after a shower, and then applying the patch means that it doesn’t come off no matter what, surviving showers and gym sessions. So, although they are annoying, at least they stay attached now. One day a week I give my cheeks a little break and a thorough moisturise, to help with the current patchwork quilt effect. Aveeno lotion seems to do the trick.
Immediately after surgery, I began getting very intense headaches, in my temples. This was attributed to the levels of my HRT, and took a few trips to the doctor to sort out. I use something called Evorel 75, which release a steady amount of oestrogen every day for 3–4 days, before being replaced. Initially, I was on Evorel 50, and it was concluded that, as I am ‘young’, this wasn’t enough. The headaches could also have been due to codeine withdrawal after surgery, but thankfully I haven’t had them since.
I didn’t really get them. I got cold sweats instead. This is a ‘thing’ apparently. I used to get them in the morning, and still do very occasionally. It would happen just after I got up, where my whole body felt it had been plunged into ice. I would get back under the duvet and wait it out, usually after a few minutes it would stop.
I was worried about this. Apparently, the menopause can make you store fat differently in your body, and hold it more around the stomach area. It’s never been a ‘problem area’ for me, even after pregnancy, but it is now. I gained around 7 lbs or so, but soon lost it again once I could exercise. I have noticed that I have much more of a paunch than before, so I am focussing on fat burning exercises and kettlebells to try and stop it getting out of control. I’ve also started eating a mainly plant based diet, after doing Veganuary and loving it, to ensure I am getting lots of veggies and cooking fresh food.
The menopause has brought with it the occasional intense feeling of anger. On the whole, I am more chilled out than I was, because impending surgery sort of hung over me, like a cloud. But what I have experienced is periods of absolute seething rage, where before I may have just lost my temper a little. This usually happens when my kid is playing up, and I feel very guilty for shouting at him. I have found that Bach Rescue Remedy helps enormously. It is a herbal solution which you spray onto your tongue. Sometimes just digging out the bottle and sitting down quietly is enough to help me to calm down, it has also encouraged me to spot when this is feeling is coming, and take myself somewhere quiet for a minute, to avoid an explosion.
On longer runs, I have found myself having a few near misses in terms of needing a wee. I have also encountered a weird, heavy sensation, a little like the very late stages of pregnancy. I was worried that I was heading for a prolapse, as this can happen after a hysterectomy, due to your womb being a sort of ‘scaffolding’ which holds everything else in place. Again, I’ve had to rely on my own research to find out more (Tip: do NOT google image the word ‘prolapse’). The answer is to not wait until bursting to go for a wee, and also to do pelvic floor exercises regularly. I have an app which reminds me when to do them (4 times a day) and also sets the times to ‘squeeze and release’. It’s a little awkward when it goes off when I am in a meeting, but it seems to be helping so far. The app I use is called PFEI Kegel Trainer, by Olson Apps, or, as someone who will remain nameless calls it, ‘Couch to Tight Fanny.’
My pubes have gone almost completely white. I also have white hairs in my eyebrows. My hair has gone thinner underneath and around the hairline. I have very vivid dreams. Not sure what all that is about, but there you go.
“No more babies then?”
This was a common reaction to my news. At first, each one stung a little but I was careful with my response. I honestly don’t think anybody intended to be hurtful with this comment, I just think perhaps they didn’t know what else to say, or were surprised that we had decided to have ‘only’ one child.
Thing is, surgery or not, we were and are completely happy as a family of three. And this was my response to those comments. That and a few jokey “yeah, I totally hate kids.” It was never a ‘decision’, we just never got the urge for more. I found approaching this with honesty helped take the edge off the conversation, but I understand that for others going through the same scenario, that this could be seen as insensitive.
Sometimes I get upset and don’t bloody WANT to be going through this, taking Menopace supplements and sticking patches on my bum. The arrival of grey hairs in various places, the droopy tummy, the sweats etc. could have easily made me feel older than my years. To counteract this I have done two things: Firstly, I have tried to overhaul my image a little. Nothing groundbreaking, just a few outfits from the Zara ‘Look Book’ that I used to delete as soon as it landed in my inbox, trying different things with my hair, some more daring specs… I’ve always played it very safe fashion-wise, but am trying to make myself feel better with bolder, brighter clothes (and stuff that’s looser on the tummy).
Secondly, I’ve embraced different forms of exercise. I am still a runner (I ran my first Ultra last month), but have tried to hit the gym a little more to try different things. Kettlebells are my absolute bloody favourite thing after running now. The endorphins do me a lot of good, and I know I am doing my ageing bones a favour.
I really hope this article helps somebody. For me, the most important thing has been to shift my mindset into a more positive, forward looking place. It would be easy to allow this huge event in my life to change me for the negative, but I have tried to take the opportunity to make some changes for the better.
That said, if you are reading this and thinking that you don’t feel the same, don’t worry. It is shit. Totally SHIT sometimes. There is no real answer other than for me to say it DOES get easier. You will learn little tips and tricks to make yourself more comfortable and happy and I am urging anybody who wants to talk, to contact me on Twitter @therunnerbird.
The menopause is absolute bullshit sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be.
Thank you for reading.